Jonah: God’s Sovereign, Unfailing Love (PART 1)

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Part 1: Running from the Presence of God

     When I was in High School I went through a stage of rebellion a couple of years after being a Christian. I was still actively reading my Bible daily. I was still going to church on my own accord (though my parents rightfully didn’t give me the choice). I was still seeking opportunities to speak to others about Christ and his gospel. However, there was one area that particularly stands out to me that saddens me. One area I had fought hard to justify. One area I knew I was running from God.

What was it you ask?

Music

Music wasn’t the problem. I am not even drawing a line concerning so-called “Christian” and “secular” music. What made the music particularly wrong to listen to was that the artist sung about loving the things that God hates. The artist mocked, ridiculed, and belittled the things that God honored and valued. And I was choosing to entertain myself with it. Each time I would try to block out what the vocalist was singing about so that I could enjoy the catchy and engaging tune. But I knew I was wrong in listening to it. The Holy Spirit reminded me of it regularly. But I fought and labored to convince myself that it wasn’t wrong. However, the LORD chastises the ones He loves. And He would not let me remain in my rebellion even in the smallest areas of my life like what song I listened to on the way to work.

Can you relate? No I don’t mean particularly concerning music. I’m referring to the “running from God” part. Have you ever run from God? Are you running from God right now? In some ways it is a silly question right? Of course we can’t run from God. The psalmist says,

Where shall I go from your Spirit?     Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there!     If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning     and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me,     and your right hand shall hold me. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,     and the light about me be night,” 12 even the darkness is not dark to you;     the night is bright as the day,     for darkness is as light with you.

 You get the idea right? There is absolutely nowhere you could go to escape God’s presence. And Yet we have this statement in Jonah 1:3 and 1:10:

But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.

In what sense could Jonah, a prophet from Galilee, be “fleeing from the presence of the LORD?” Since God is present in all places and at all times, in what way is it possible for any of us to flee from God’s presence.

Well in the context, God had commanded Jonah to do one thing and he did precisely the opposite. So we see the writer equating obeying God to enjoying the presence of God and disobeying God is equating with running from God’s presence. Could it be that you are running from the very presence of the thing you claim is your ultimate joy and hope in life? When we disobey God, we are doing that very thing.

What could God possibly ask Jonah to do that would drive a prophet to such crystal clear rebellion? God sent him to preach behind enemy lines. Not just any enemies’ line. Assyria and more specifically that “great city Nineveh.” These were the very people who had oppressed Jonah and his people. Jonah loved and valued his country, his people, his comforts, more than he did the command of God and certainly more than he did some “wicked,” “violent,” pagans.

     You see Jonah was given a unique calling to speak the truth in a foreign hostile land but all of us have been called to speak the truth to our neighbors. Allow me to ask the question again, “Have you been running from the presence of God?” We see that Jonah refuses to go and speak the message God has entrusted him with because he is indifferent to Nineveh’s impending judgment from God. Jonah’s silence and separation were his way running from God’s presence.

     Sadly, Jonah’s behavior is ironically similar to what many Christians advocate today to be commendable.  That may sound shocking as first glance. But I think for far too long, many Christians have been duped or deceived into thinking the most loving thing we can do is “be nice” to our neighbor and for the most part “mind our own business” in hopes that someday they may interrogate us with how they can be saved. After all they say, “Jesus says, ‘judge not that you be not judged.’” This is true, and it behooves us to understand what Jesus meant there being that that same Jesus in the same text tells his disciples, “Do not give to dogs what is holy…” or again later in that same sermon and chapter even, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” In fact, Jesus in that same book gives the keys to the kingdom of heaven to the church. In order that, they may bind and loosen on earth what is in heaven.

Even still many Christians have become far more concerned with offending their neighbor than they have been with speaking the truth in obedience to the command of God our Savior. And this is a great travesty. It is not Christian’s “niceness” that marks us apart. It is the message that marks us apart. And if we fail to bring attention to that main thing that separates us, then we will fail entirely. I have often heard that the reason they don’t share the gospel is because they think they will not receive the message yet. And they would hate for them to reject the message. But they fail to realize that if that is true then the rejection has already taken place in their hearts. Indeed, we already know this is the case with every man. It is not man’s heart that readies the effectiveness of the Word. But rather, God’s Word that readies the man’s heart. And if we withhold the Word, we withhold from our lost neighbor grace (On a side note, this is particularly instructive for parents parenting teenagers).

Jonah’s way of hating and judging the Ninevites was to remain silent. In fact, that was the most unloving thing Jonah could do. The principle remains true today saints. One of the ways we judge and hate people is by not warning them of the wrath to come. The reason why our silence in the face of such wickedness is really quite clear. Sin is opposed to God and so sin is destructive. And our silence in the face of such things displays our indifference. If a doctor were to withhold the sad information of cancer from a patient in hopes of not “ruining their day” or “their relationship” we would consider that doctor to be a monster. Saints, how can we remain silent in the face of such a horror as sin and their impending judgment of the eternal conscious suffering of the wrath of God? We must NOT be silent. Patient in our interactions? YES. Loving? YES. Gracious? YES. Kind? YES. But not silent.

Jonah’s silence was not just in the face of one person though. Jonah was silent in the face of a whole city and nation’s wickedness. A wickedness that had ascended to the heavens. A wickedness that had arisen to the throne room of God. This is the very reason God sent Jonah in the first place. Jonah 1:2 says, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” This reminds us that God is not only concerned about Israel. God is concerned about the nations. It is the nations which are to be His Son’s inheritance. And it is the nations which His Son shall receive. The teaching of Nineveh’s wickedness coming before God is not unique to Nineveh. God rewards all nations that would seek to honor and obey Him. And He judges all nations that rebel against His moral law. Proverbs 14:34 makes this clear, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Notice how indiscriminate the statement is, “a nation” and “any people.” Sweden, Brazil, Iran, America, Russia and China all fall under that category. And so it true today that if our nation pursues and lives out righteousness then God will exalt us nationally. But should we continue in unrepentant sin and wickedness, then it will be a reproach to us. We will be disgraced by God and an object of scorn and contempt. Therefore, our message must go not only to the individual but also to the nation. For the message pertains to both. And Christ Jesus has purchased both. And He shall inherit both.

Jonah was more concerned with his safety, comfort, and self than he was concerned with the command of God. Friend, can I ask you, “are you prophetically speaking the truth in love and warning others that God will judge, or are you more concerned about yourself and your comfort?” This is the question that has been haunting me this week. I read about Jonah and became disgusted with his lack of character and then Holy Spirit held the mirror of God’s Word in my face and I began to mourn over my own sin and rebellion. Scholar and Pastor James R. White points out a wonderful nugget of truth concerning this.   He comments on the fact that if we are Christ’s then we are hidden with Him in God and are safe. Our eternity is secure. So then, what power over my life does the world have over us? White’s states only what power we render to it. For I can only give the world power over my life in as much as I love the things in the world. If we love our liberties or tax breaks or reputation or home or car more than God then we will inevitably surrender our allegiance to the world over God.

     And so we see this is really an issue of loyalties. Jonah; when caught in a massive storm at sea that the LORD God had sent, claimed: “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and dry land.” But his life was saying otherwise. Jonah recognizes there is no escape from God and instructs the mariners to hurl him into the sea the same way God hurled the great wind upon the sea. I wonder where our loyalties lie in our life. Where do yours lie? Do you confess Jesus with your mouth while your heart is far from Him?

What is most staggering to me though in this story is at what lengths God pursues Jonah. He won’t let him go. He hounds Jonah until he returns to Him. Proverbs 3:11-12 state:

11 My son, do not despise the Lord‘s discipline or be weary of his reproof, 12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

Jonah is running as far as humanly possible from God and yet He as a loving Father still loves Jonah and so disciplines him. We are not to see the behavior of God in this story as punitive because of Jonah’s despicable behavior. We are to see the LORD’s behavior such as a loving father who takes his son into a room for instruction and discipline because he loves his son too much to let him go wild. Let’s be clear, Jonah has done NOTHING to earn this kind of love. His behavior has shamed God and insulted Him. Yet the steadfast love of the LORD endures forever. God’s Sovereign, Unfailing Love will not let Jonah go his way. This love that God has for His people is the same today. If you are like me, then you are feeling like your character more resembles that of Jonah than it does the sailors. But the good news is, God shows both of them grace! God’s love never gives up on us. Do you believe that friend? God will never leave you nor forsake you. God will pursue you and hound you and move the seas and the winds to bring you into His presence. God will do whatever it takes to make you more like His Son Jesus Christ.

     That’s because Jesus Christ is the final prophet who also came from Galilee. He left His home in heaven and He did obey His Father’s orders to go into enemy territories and preach, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” And His the response He received was not favorable in the least. No. In fact, He was despised and rejected by man. He was acquainted with sorrows. The punishment that brought us peace fell upon Him. That’s because the Father called Him not only to preach but to die in our place. He took all of our running from God and bore it on His shoulders while the Father punished those sins in Christ.

He did it, so that we could be forgiven. He did it, so that we could have life. He did it, so that we could enjoy the presence of the LORD. And He did it, so that we would call others to repentance and into the presence of the marvelous Light of the World, Jesus Christ!

“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” –Ps. 36:9

Blessings!

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Why everyone loves Jesus like they love Play Doh

My 2 year old daughter Ellie loves Play Doh.  I know I am a minority in this, but I have never liked Play Doh.  I am not sure if it’s the feeling of Play Doh under my finger nails, or the lack of creativity my brain has, or what.  But I have never been a huge fan.  But I do understand the reason why so many (including my daughter) love it.  It puts you in charge.  You get to be the boss and make whatever you want, for whatever purpose you want, to whatever end that you want.  In other words, it allows you to create and enjoy all the things that accompany creating.  However, no matter how good you are at Play Doh, your potential is quite limited.  Perhaps if we had something of much greater influence that moved, formed, and did our bidding it would be more interesting to me.

I am not really sure.

Have you ever noticed how many different Jesuses (how do you spell the plural form of Jesus?) there are presented to us in our day.  There are political Jesuses (Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Communist, etc.).  There are religious Jesuses (Gnostic Jesus, Jehovah Witness Jesus, Mormon Jesus, Muslim Jesus, Christian Jesus, Hindu Jesus, etc.)  This is not even to mention how Jesus has been consumerized onto T-shirts, rubber duckies, posters, backpacks, movies, bracelets, etc.

How can we know the true Jesus?  And why is everyone wanting a Jewish man from a no name town that lived roughly 2,000 years ago on their team?  These are the two questions I hope to answer in this post.

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

When we consider how we me may get to have a more accurate understanding of who Jesus is it is important that we establish we are actually talking about a real flesh and blood person. This really isn’t up for debate. Nearly all historical scholars from all biases acknowledge that the fact Jesus was born in Bethlehem, from Nazareth, lived and taught and performed many signs in Galilee, that He was crucified under Pontius Pilate was buried in a tomb and on Sunday His tomb was found empty, and lastly, that many eye witnesses claimed to have seen Him in His resurrected state. Obviously, whatever one’s bias is will determine how they interpret all this evidence. But the evidence is crystal clear.

Secondary Sources

That being the case, when we seek to know the true historical Jesus it is important to interact with sources that are closest to the time when Jesus existed. Contrary to popular belief there is much written in the 1st and 2nd century concerning Jesus and His early followers who made up the Church. For your research, I would commend, Pliny the Younger’s work “On Christians” or the famous “Works of Josephus” or Ignatius’ letters “Letter to Trallians” and “Letter to Romans” or Irenaeus’ work “Against Heresies” or Eusebius on “Church History” or “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” or Justin Martyr’s work “First Apology”. In any case, we can learn much about Jesus from writers who lived during the time of Jesus or are removed by only 1 to 3 generations from Him.

Primary Sources

But the single best works that exist to help us know the true historical Jesus would be to look at the biographies written by the men who lived and walked with Jesus Himself for over three years. These are eye-witness accounts of what Jesus had said and done. These works are commonly known as the Gospels. There are four canonical Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Unreliable Ancient Sources

There are only four canonical Gospels because the other Gospels known as the Gnostic Gospels were written a hundred plus years removed from Christ by men who never saw, heard, or touched Jesus. In fact, the writers of the Gnostic Gospels wrote under a Pseudonym or false name to give themselves credibility. But none of the original recipients believed they were written by the proclaimed writer. In addition, textual criticism and other examination has shown that the writers weren’t even from the area in which Jesus lived and ministered, died, or rose. In other words, the Gnostic Gospel were among the first to manipulate a Jesus to their liking to gain credibility or influence like my two year plays with Play Doh. That being the case, the Gnostic Gospels are not helpful for understanding who the true Jesus is, rather they are helpful in understanding what some people believed about Jesus in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th century in the Roman Empire.

Where The True Jesus Is Found

So my commendation for us would be, to truly know who Jesus is and what He taught, did, and believed about Himself, we must be very familiar with the eye witness accounts of Jesus found in the books: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In addition, in the rest of the New Testament we find out more about what Jesus taught His followers and as a result what He would want us to believe.

I must follow up with something fundamental and crucial. The eye-witnesses claim to be not only writing from what they observed, they claim to be writing the very words of God Himself. So the perspective they give is not merely a fallen man’s perspective, but rather, from an omniscient point of view. So though, we ought to approach these works as historical genre. We cannot merely come to them as that. They are authoritative on our lives as well.

WHY EVERYONE WANTS JESUS ON THEIR SIDE

The bottom line is this. Jesus is LORD of heaven and earth. He said as much in Matthew 28:18,

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

So who wouldn’t want Jesus on their team right? Even those who do not acknowledge the Bible as authoritative still can’t shrug off the real influence and power that Jesus has over every sphere of life. Jesus authority is very real make no doubts about it. And so is self-deception. So is it any wonder that the masses create a Jesus to their liking and then comfort themselves that He is on their team. If a business owner sees a way to make a buck by using Jesus, they’ll take it. If a politician sees a way to guilt people onto His side by using Jesus, he’ll do it. If a religious leader can get a bigger following and deepen his pockets or increase his influence and power, he’ll do it. The list can go on. But this begs the question.

WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?

Here is the reality. Jesus isn’t on any of our teams because He is LORD of heaven and earth. The real question for us is, am I and you on His team? We don’t get to draft Jesus on our teams because He is the owner, boss, creator, potter, LORD of us and we are His Play Doh. We don’t get to shape Jesus into our image. He makes us into His or He damns us. It is either the one or the other. He will damn all those who continue to commit treason to His lordship over them. But He will graciously, lovingly, powerfully, miraculously conform those who submit and put their trust in Him into His glorious image.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? –Jesus (Matthew 16:24-26)

Freedom Found in Submission

The Great Question

What is your highest authority?  I mean, when it gets down to it all, what exactly is your base line or foundational authority that influences all your decisions.  What exactly is that chief authority in your life from which you measure everything?

Perhaps it is Logic or Reasoning

I don’t think this is the case for most.  But perhaps you fall in this category.  When you are deciding on: what is right or wrong, what is true and untrue, what you will submit to and rebel against, you always make your basis from reason.  But then, if reason or logic is your final authority, what is your logical reason for why murdering the innocent is wrong? Here is a great mystery that you know it to be wrong but cannot give a logic or reason based explanation.

Perhaps it is Practical or Results Based

Do you find yourself measuring the rightness of a practice based upon the results it yields?  This parenting method is right because of the results.  This law is bad because look at all the division it has caused.  This church is doing it right because look at their success. But then, what do you do when your goals and someone else’s conflict? And how do you know your desired results are the right desired results? Here is a great mystery that you deeply long for good results and yet have no solid basis for how to discern a good result from a bad result.

Perhaps it is Emotions or Feelings

This is where I believe the large bulk of most humanity begin.  When you hear something that makes you angry have you ever considered why that made you angry? When someone behaves in a way that upsets someone else, do you conclude the one who is hurt to be a victim? When you are upset, hurt, angry, offended do conclude the offender to be automatically in the wrong? Do you base a right choice from a wrong choice based upon how it “jives with you” or feels? But if emotions are your final authority, how do you reconcile that your emotional responses not only differ from other people, but that your emotional responses are not even consistent within itself? Here is a great mystery that you feel greatly about so much yet have no way to measure right emotional responses with wrong emotional responses.

The Similarities Among All These Standards

What intrigues me about all of these standards is that all of them ultimately are making one’s self the highest authority.  All these standards are really just a front for making yourself your own master and lord.  It would appear at first glance that we are putting the ultimate authority on something outside of us, but in reality we are claiming ourselves to be god.  Is this not what the Bible warns and instructs would happen given our fallen state?  Is this not the epitome of what sin is?  Everyone doing what’s right in their own eyes.  In other words, when we seek to establish any other lord other than the One True God of the Holy Scriptures then we unleash absolute chaos. Here is a great mystery that in seeking our freedom from the Lordship of Jesus Christ we become slaves to everything.

The Final and Highest Authority

Because God is the creator and sustainer of all things He is also the Lord of all things.  But if God is the highest authority from which all things are measured, how do we know what God is like.  It is here that we understand why King David spoke of God’s Word as more precious than gold or silver.  Because in God’s Word we see God revealing Himself to us.  And so, when we learn about God we have a solid basis for measuring, right from wrong, truth from lie, wisdom from foolishness.  And it is in God’s Word that we learn that God has fully revealed Himself to us in His Son Jesus Christ. Here is a great mystery that Word of God has taken on flesh and dwelt among us. And that this God-man has come to reconcile us to the Father. Therefore, if we trust in Jesus Christ by submitting ourselves to Him and His teachings we will be saved!

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. -Matthew 7:24-29 (ESV)